Full Frontal Movie Review
Like King of the Hill and the groundbreaking videotape, some of this work is genius.
Like the idiotic Schizopolis and the atrocious Kafka, some of this work is total crap.
Thank heaven that while Full Frontal is one of Soderbergh's most experimental works to date, it's also one of his best.
Explaining the film within a film within a film within a film of a plot requires some doing, so either pay close attention or skip this section altogether. Over the course of a single day, a gaggle of L.A. movie insiders find their lives oddly intertwined. There are Catherine and Nicholas (Julia Roberts and Blair Underwood) -- with her reporter interviewing his big-time movie star. There is Lee (Catherine Keener), a bitter movie studio executive, her writer husband (David Hyde Pierce), and her masseuse sister (Mary McCormack in her first satisfying film role in years). Then there's indie theater director Arty (Enrico Colantoni), and the star of his show "The Sound and the Fuhrer," Hitler (Nicky Katt).
It isn't until about halfway through the film that you realize Catherine and Nicholas are actually characters in a movie taking place within Full Frontal. Although a faux credits sequence takes place at the front end of the film, Soderbergh's odd structure doesn't really gel until Catherine rips off her wig (the worst of Roberts' career), and promptly falls into her erstwhile character of Francesca, a Julia-like movie star in her own right. And rest assured there are more twists in store for us down the road....
We go behind the curtain when we realize that Soderbergh is using rich lighting and full 35mm film for the Catherine-Nicholas vignettes (a film entitled Rendezvous) but is using what appears to be a cheap toy camera for the "real life" scenes, which play out in the offices and hotels of Los Angeles. But are we ever really out of the movies? Soderbergh positively floods the production with insidery film jokes and gags to make us think not: Terence Stamp, in character and muttering lines from Soderbergh's The Limey, appears at various times; Underwood makes a crack about Roberts' cut love scene with Denzel Washington from The Pelican Brief; Fight Club director David Fincher appears briefly as the director of a film being shot within Rendezvous... and starring Brad Pitt. The gags come so fast, I don't know how many other inside jokes I missed.
And that's kind of the point -- assuming Soderbergh has one -- that Hollywood's work product and Hollywood's reality are indistinguishable. It's not a particularly inventive theme after decades of The Players and The Big Pictures, but Soderbergh imbues so much creativity and moxie into his story's telling that it merits real attention. The production itself is front-loaded with quirks, with Soderbergh attaching a note that traveled with the screenplay to prospective stars, telling them (among other points) that: "You will drive yourself to the set. If you are unable to drive yourself, a driver will pick you up, but you will probably become the subject of ridicule." "You will pick, provide, and maintain your own wardrobe." "There will be no trailers." And "You will have fun whether you want to or not."
The semi-improvised film works thanks to its insane hilarity, and the cast has plenty of fun chewing the scenery. Pierce is by far the notable standout, and even the long-forgotten Underwood is apt in his role. But while I'm the first to admit Hollywood is completely phony, it may not be as over-the-top as, say, Keener's crazed HR executive is. Stand on a chair and recite the countries in Africa, rapid-fire while she screams at you? Ummmm, not even in Hollywood, Steve.
Still, as often as Keener (and it's mostly her character) rips us out of the action, our voyeuristic presence throughout the film makes for breezy and wildly self-referential fun. Soderbergh hasn't really outdone Altman's seminal work on the subject, but if his goal was to make Peoria think Hollywood has its communal head placed firmly within its communal anus, well, his work is done.
As expected, tons of deleted material appear on the Full Frontal DVD, including an excised storyline where Keener's character gets arrested in the porno shop. The full "rules" of the film are included along with outtakes from Soderbergh's on-set spy cam, and a feature-length commentary from Soderbergh and writer Coleman Hough. Highly recommended.
Julia with hairstylist (fired).
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